Europe’s crime agency launches operation to support the freezing of Russian assets

EU-wide initiative will support financial investigations to target santioned wealth

The 'Tango' superyacht, belonging to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, has been seized by Spanish authorities in Mallorca on behalf of the US.  Reuters
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Europe’s crime agency Europol has launched an EU-wide initiative named Operation Oscar to support the bloc's freezing of Russian assets.

The initiative, launched jointly with Eurojust and Frontex, will support financial investigations by EU member states targeting assets owned by individuals and legal entities sanctioned in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The year-long operation aims to exchange information and intelligence to help identify assets belonging to sanctioned entities.

"Operation Oscar aims to support criminal investigations by Member States in relation to the circumvention of EU-imposed trade and economic sanctions," Europol said.

"Similar to operation Sentinel, which targets fraud against Covid-19 EU recovery funds, Operation Oscar is an umbrella operation that will continue for a period of at least one year and include a number of separate investigations."

Western nations have already being working together to trace the assets of sanctioned individuals.

Italy recently requested help in identifying whether a superyacht belonged to a person on the EU's sanctions list.

"In the framework of Operation Oscar, initiated by Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre, Europol will facilitate partners’ exchange of information and intelligence and provide operational support in a number of financial investigations targeting criminal assets and circumvention of the EU economic sanctions related to the Russia’s military aggression towards Ukraine," it said.

"We will centralise and analyse all information contributed under this operation to identify international links, criminal groups and suspects, as well as new criminal trends and patterns.

"We will further provide tailor-made analytical support to investigations, as well as operational co-ordination, forensics and technical expertise, and financial support to the relevant national authorities."

As part of the operation, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, also known as Frontex, will be enhancing the scrutiny of people who are crossing EU’s external borders and fall under the scope of the sanctions.

"Taking advantage of the large spectrum of the operational activities of Frontex, the task will be implemented in all their domains – land, sea and air," Europol said.

The US, EU and UK have together sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian people and businesses and the EU says it will be targeting 70 per cent of the Russian banking market and key state-owned firms.

Last week European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that she was considering additional sanctions, including on oil imports, based in part on proposals from EU governments.

The US and Britain have banned Russian oil, hoping to cut off a significant source of revenue for Moscow.

The decision is harder for Europe's economy due to its dependency and would put additional pressure on already soaring energy prices.

The UK and the EU have also banned the export of luxury goods to Russia, including vehicles, high-end fashion and art.

Updated: April 12, 2022, 11:17 AM